Sunday, January 31, 2010

lets get this party started...

A pinch and a punch folks...yes another month has rolled right on by. I'm not entirely sorry to see January go, despite its fair weather and extensive all round cruisiness. I'm ready to get into the year - what ever it may bring. I felt inspired by this article found via SF's excellent blog Block or Not . Go read it and feel ready to face the year. I especially like, "Comfort is the enemy of art" and "Perfect is the enemy of getting something done". The perfect moment to write will never arrive. Do it anyway. Good luck with all your endeavours this year, folks.

The photo is of my baby - now 12 - on Mt Eden, just up the road from our house

Friday, January 29, 2010

The dust bunnies are forming colonies...

Came across this great interview of Daniel Handler at The Rejectionist. His first novel (for adults) was rejected 37 times before being accepted for publication. Mr Handler's latest novel has just been rejected. I find these facts incredibly disturbing. Okay, I can get my head round the 37 rejections - it was a first book, the author an unknown quantity. But this is no longer true. Daniel Handler's reputation has moved stratospherically beyond that. His sales record would have to be a publishers dream. What does it mean for less successful authors? Its a good interview - go read it.

I have a huge bunch of people coming over for afternoon drinks today. As always this has rendered me inert and I am now concentrating on keeping my gaze averted from the piles of rubbish that need clearing away and the dust bunnies forming colonies. My son has just pointed out my paper towers in the study, demanding I clear them away. Of course I counter argued that things were probably growing in the darkened corners of his bedroom but he wisely pointed out his bedroom was not a main thoroughfare available for communal use. Sigh. Note to self - next social engagement should be organised outside the house. Note to self number 2: school term starts next week, I can survive this.

Love this post by Justine Larbalestier on 'mansplaining'. Disturbing and hilarious in one fell swoop.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Know the enemy...

MOVIE SPOILER ALERT - Lars and the Real Girl (you have been warned :)

I've been horribly slack about editing my WIP. My children are still off school and our routine is an anti-routine. My brain has curdled in the heat and doesn't like looking at constructed sentences for too long. Tis annoying as I want to get this thing finished - it s so close and yet SOOO far and the only person that can make a difference is me (oh the pain of responsibility). And editing can be one long 'moment' of doubt and fear. For me editing is fraught with extra fear as it is the opportunity to remove any suckage, tighten up the brilliance and make the story as rocking as its ever going to get. Ha ha .If you ever suffer from the illusion that writing is easy take note: pulling out my brain through my nostrils would be a simpler and less painful process. I know what I have to do on this job but that does not make it any easier. I think its the 100% vigilance required to not get slack and lazy and lapse into cliche and adverbs and tell. And most of all to keep faith with every plot development for the entire story. I cannot do B if I didn't do A. Is A in the right place? And if I have A and B then C must turn up in the right spot and do its job. And did he still have green eyes and freckles and behave on page 100 like he behaved on page 5. Is her character development credible and meaningful and supported by what has happened to her? Do we care? After watching Lars and the Real Girl the other night and crying during the sex doll's funeral I know what result effective character and plot development can have. I am now reading the second book in Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy and I care about the main character so much I am dreading what might happen next. I am compelled to read but have to steel myself when I do, just in case. There are annoying things about Larsson's writing style (if he makes one more list of technical info for his key characters latest purchase or tells me the square meterage of the house some minor character lives in I may scream), but these are not enough to stop me reading. Fascinating stuff. Folks if you ever need a reminder of one of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your own writing, it is this - read more books!!! Yes this is one cliche I am happy to repeat ad nauseum and if need be to shout it as well. You cannot write if you do not read. There is no better writing education. And this does not mean reading only literary works of genius. One must recognise bad writing if one is to avoid it. Know the enemy. READ MORE BOOKS! Read widely, and find out what you like and what works, and what doesn't.

And I have also discovered that writing a synopsis can be a helpful method of pointing out any weaknesses in a plot. I have just submitted two stories to an Australian publisher and a synopsis was required for each. I usually write a synopsis/outline before I get writing but things always change during the writing process and a corrected synopsis is required for submissions. It is a great test of the brains of your story. Does this still make sense? Would real people behave like this? Does the journey create the result? And one of my personal favourites - was the payoff worth the reading effort?

In other news I am now officially enrolled for another university paper this year and I am very excited as I have been credited an additional paper as I can demonstrate meeting the requirements without any additional effort on my part. This is jolly decent of them and exceedingly handy. I now have to get only five more papers to complete the diploma. Oh and I recently wittered on in a brief and probably insufficient way about POV. For more in-depth smart advice go check out Nicola Morgan's blog post on this very subject. This writer knows her stuff.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oh darlings, why so blue? Is it because I've been throttling you...

Having read Coraline (damn you Mr G) and loved it, after reading this post on Justine Larbalestier's blog t'other day I promptly went and got Margaret Mahy's The Changeover out of the library. I am now nearly finished and have already decided to buy myself a copy for posterity and like Ms Larbalestier, re-reading. These books are restoring my faith in writing. Mahy's prose is densely packed with intellectual puzzles and surprising and rewarding imagery and complex, intriguing characters, whose stories you want to go on and on beyond the last page. Its like brain chocolate (and you all know what a big compliment that is coming from me).

While trawling Janet Reid's Query Shark (trying to distract myself from the waiting game) I was interested in this comment:-

'every moral fabric sewn into her existence' is over writing of the worst sort. It's moral fiber, not fabric for starters, and "sewn into her existence" doesn't actually make sense. Metaphors and similes need to illuminate not obfuscate to be effective.

I had a mixed reaction. I confess I've written phrases like this. Sometimes they are so appealing that even when I've recognized that they are the wrong side of sense and meaning I've struggled to kill them. Sometimes I just know that with a little more effort, insight and magic fairy dust they could become something wonderful. Sometimes I'll read one and think I don't care that it doesn't work its just so pretty or startling or twisted that I like it. Of course common sense usually prevails but there are times when my story feels the poorer for their absence. It doesn't help reading Mahy who must bathe in magic dust because her books are full to the brim with cunning phrases of unexpected juxtapositions that work brilliantly. I am sure there are one or two naughty darlings lurking in my current WIP (which must be feeling a little unloved and abandoned right now because I've barely looked at it over the last three days). I'll post them up when i find them and then you can tell me if you think my darlings deserve to be throttled or not.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Take one friend with a glass of water and call me in the morning...

It is often the way. Everything we need to write our stories is already in our heads: the ideas, the idiosyncracies of our characters, the background, and the solutions to the fiercely independent, badly behaved plots that have wormed their way onto our pages. We hold our headachey heads and complain that 'we just can't do it.' But it really is all there. Sometimes we just need someone else to stick their fingers in and point these things out when we can't see them for ourselves. TK Roxborogh hinted at this on her blog yesterday. I have been having a 'moment' about my middle grade mystery thrillery story that I am editing: the one with the yoyoing plot element (currently weaving itself painfully back into the rest of the story). I decided its too complicated. I couldn't even explain the story to myself (never a good sign). Then, last night I had dinner out with a good writery friend and we wuz discussing our WIP's. Maybe it was the alcoholic lubrication that rendered me locquacious. Maybe it was because we'd already been talking writery things for awhile and my brain was sufficiently limbered up to tackle the task. Maybe it was having to explain my story to someone who expects a coherent plot, and whose opinion I respect that suddenly found me able to describe what goes on in my novel. Probably all of those things contributed to the moment of clarity. And I thought - crikey, that actually makes sense. I hadn't choked. I'd managed to rise to the challenge. Thank you Tania H. Ha ha - its not the story that has a problem, the story is just fine - its ME! The important thing I have to try and remember when struck with doubt and worry, is that even if I can't always immediately access it, everything I need is swilling around inside my head. Sometimes the path to clarity is an unexpected one. Its a nice twist that friends are often the catalyst. If you are stuck, or confused just take one friend with a glass of water (or coffee, tea, wine etc...) - you'll feel better in no time

Friday, January 15, 2010

just a little interlude...

Finished Coraline in a day. Must now confirm it to my list of all time favs. Believe Neil Gaiman may have been a cat in a former life or has cat ESP now. Very annoyed as book is so good. Glad I saw the movie as I think it added to my enjoyment of the book. Trying to figure out how often to re-read such books as too often will depress me and my writery self, but too far apart will depress me and my writery self.

Am editing as if a snail at the moment - about a couple of pages a day with much going back over earlier stuff. This is probably why I took out tricky plot element in the first place, as it is a beggar - a) to get right and, b) to fit it in properly. This may be enough to send me back into the arms of my equally challenging YA. Why do I do this to myself. Oh, that's right, I'm a masochist, whoops, I mean writer. I will keep my nose to the grindstone. One thing keeping me going is the feeling that the end is in sight.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Procrastination is the evil twin of motivation...

So Nicola Morgan threw a fab 1st birthday party for her blog and she really knows how to throw a party. I always meet the most amazing people at her place . Go check out the blogs of these folk, SF, Lorelei Armstrong, Debs and Karen Jones Gowan. Writers have always sought out the company of other writers (William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Leigh Hunt, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfield, Libba Bray and Maureen Johnson to name but a few) and I just love that I can communicate with writers all over the world as well as the ones in my own country and home town. Even while I'm meeting new writers in other countries (check out this quote on Lorelei's blog) I'm also talking to one in Dunedin (check out this post by Libba Bray brought to my attention by TK Roxborogh). Of course this is what I'm actually doing when I should be fixing my current manuscript. There is no official deadline but a publisher has said they will read it when its done so there is sufficient motivation (of which procrastination is the evil twin - mwahahaha). I've checked facebook a couple of times and got up to-date with a few of my favourite blogs. I played several rounds of 3 card draw computer solitaire at which I am embarrassingly fast (pb 39 seconds) and did the disturbing task of accompanying my eldest as she gave out CV's in the search for a part time job at the local shopping mall (disturbing only because its another unquestionable sign she is growing up and away despite her protestations she is never leaving home). I had another look at my grade for the university paper I did last year and yay - it is beautiful and IT HASN'T CHANGED - and I enrolled for another paper this year (although over $1200 for one paper just about made me have apoplexy: I am applying for a distance learning rebate post haste). And finally because damn-it, no publishers are beating down my door yet this year, either via e-mail or post, and I have to rest my leg cos I pulled a muscle JOGGING ON THE SPOT (sad and pathetic huh?) I have finally started the edit. This will be the final fix up before I have it read by a trusted pawn from my cabal of supporters of my plan for world domination. Then it will be off to the publisher. Stories are NEVER finished but as Libba Bray says, (to paraphrase) they just become someone we used to be close to, but now we've moved on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

we all have that 'moment'...

TK Roxborogh's comment on my last post reminded me of a past post I wrote about reaching that moment when you decide your novel is the biggest load of c(beep)p the world has ever come across. My old post was in response to something I read on this blog (Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room) but I can't remember when it was - sorry folks (I'll have a rootle round and see if i can find a link). I think this reaction, this self-doubt, this loss of faith in your own writing probably happens to around 95% of all writers. I know it happens to me. Usually more then once per story but not the entire time I'm writing it. Most often it happens just over half way, near the end and when I'm editing it and in that moment I know my story couldn't blow any harder than it does and that was the biggest waste of (three months, six months, 9 months, a year, 2 years, some other length of time, select as appropriate). In that moment you wonder how you ever thought you could write. In that moment you know you will never show the story to another living soul. In that moment your heart sinks and you want to cry. But (and this is my favourite part) you keep writing, finish the story and edit it till its done and 99 times out of 100 that love for what you've written comes back and months later you'll read a bit at random and think - ok, maybe I can do this and in THAT foolhardy moment you print it and post it or e-mail it to an agent/publisher and you enter a totally different phase of this masochistic business. What reading ill-written best-sellers teaches me (when its not teaching me that the world works in mysterious ways) is that my writing isn't the cr(beep)eist there is.

I have been in a bit of a 'moment' recently whilst editing my latest completed WIP. When I originally began this story some years back I had a particular key plot element woven through the story which eventually became an albatross around its neck. The plot element had withered away along the course of the story and had to be surgically removed if the story was going to survive. It took me awhile but I figured out how to fill in the holes left by the surgey and I subsequently completed the tale. Then this morning i decided to put this plot element back. The story was missing something and I now understood how to make it work. Its the right thing to do but I do feel a certain sense of frustration that I had to go through this entire process to reach this conclusion. I am now looking at a mountain of work and fell a little daunted by the climb but I've invested too much time and effort in a manuscript which I think has some potential. If you see a dent in my head its just because i've been bashing it against a brick wall!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I guess I'm just jealous and probably a bit of a snob too...

okay - its obvious I'm confused and everyone's been too polite to say anything or too worried I'm talking about their book (do not fear - I have been talking of books by overseas authors). Folks I guess the underlying issue is that so much of what we talk about in writing circles - in blogs, in person, at writing workshops, at author talks, etc.. is about how to make your writing better. Agents and publishers blog about how hard you have to work to write to the highest standard with something fresh and unexpected to get them excited and interested and then Dan Brown sells in droves. Although the central premise of the current bestseller I'm reading (by no one I know personally) is a little weird, it is certainly fresh and intriguing. But I think the writing is weak. My daughter loved the book and told me I was too critical and smarty pants about it, although I was very interested to find out that this book is on some worst books of 2009 lists as well as some best ofs. Its been optioned for a movie. With a big name celeb for the main role. I guess I'm just jealous. And probably a bit of a snob. But in my defence I wouldn't be a snob if I didn't keep getting told its about the quality of the writing by everyone in the industry. I need to stop analysing and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Thats what other readers do.

And as far as my own writing is concerned? I want readers to sit back and enjoy the ride I have produced. But my big dream is to have them feel about my stories like I felt about my childhood favourites. To read my books more than once. Thats my aim. I've got a lot of work to do...Oh, and i promise to find a new topic for the next blog :)

ps - very sad to hear (via Beattie's Blog) that Marian Keyes is giving up writing due to depression. I hope she is able to recover soon from this debilitating illness.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It said haute cuisine on the wrapper - why is there a cheeseburger inside?

Been ploughing through a whole bunch of new books recently which has been rather nice, but I'm beginning to feel a desire to go read an old favourite. Not sure what yet. Its not an old favourite because its not old and it has yet to reach my 'favourite' status (although it might be a contender) but I might start with Coraline because I saw the movie on the way back from Oz. I loved the movie but I can't help feeling that I loved the book differently. Now I have to check, so a re-read is in order. Then maybe I'll re-read The Time Travellers Wife (again inspired by the movie which was good but not as good as the book) and then some books from Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series (definitely a childhood favourite). Since turning my writing ambitions into reality I find I read differently and these differences aren't necessarily an improvement. Sure they probably help me with my writing skills but they do tend to cut into the raw enjoyment of a book. There's too much assessment going on up front now. Still can't take that away now, even if I tried. But I'm wondering if its this change in my reading that has resulted in me finding less gems amongst the books I've been consuming? I wonder what I will find when I do some re-reading? Will the old favourites stand the test of time and my personal metamorphosis? I know The Wizard of Earthsea books still rock, as do the Little House on the Prairie series. I guess I grew up on a diet of confirmed classics, so now I have to eat a little more junk food in between the amazing stuff. I don't mind junk food but I would like a little more fine dining than I'm getting. Its especially disappointing when it says 'haute cuisine' on the wrapper but its still cheeseburger and fries inside (or something too sugary or insubstantial). A million customers can be wrong.

I had a scary thought last night while watching the movie "He's Just Not That in to You". I enjoyed it. Some of it is cheesy and a bit hokey in places but some of it really hit the mark and it was an interesting ensemble of actors. But the aspect that disturbed me was the general notion that if a guy doesn't ring you it clearly means he's just not interested. Is that how publishers really feel when they don't get in touch?

And here's an interesting factoid - I would spend more than 99% of my life waiting on submissions. That means less than 1% of my life is about hearing back from publishers or in discussions with publishers. Sure I don't spend that 99%+ twiddling my thumbs while I wait and a good proportion of that time will include promoting myself as a writer or my books, or creating new work, but my mind is always waiting, often impatiently or on tenterhooks. Is this constant ooze of adrenaline, this continual underlying stressor, good for my health?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Make 2010 your year of bravery...

I like this (abbreviated) list on agent Janet Reid's blog today. Its some of the things an editor thinks when checking out your manuscript. You can check out the full list via Janet's blog. Yes they do strike a little fear in my heart because thats a big ask, but it sure makes it clear what they are after. The last sentence is Janet's own comment and I believe it pretty much sums up what I want to know when someone critiques my work (and when I critique theirs). How does the story and the characters therein stack up. If these aren't compelling, great, and fresh, then no amount of fab grammar and super spelling will save me.

Does this story surprise me and take me to places I didn’t expect?

Is this a main character I care about?

Am I personally moved by this story or situation?

Has this been done a million times before?

Is the voice/character authentic and real?

We can fix a lot of things (grammar, syntax and structure) but we can't fix these. These have to be right before we say yes.

I also liked Nicola Morgan's latest post, here. The 'no unsolicited manuscripts' issue does not have to be an impossible barrier to get past. As long as your polite enquiry demonstrates that you are not a certifiable, head-banging, strait-jacket-wearing, nut-job guilty of using too many commas, I believe there is a chance an agent/publisher might be willing to say - okay, send me your story. Sometimes you gotta take a chance - I'm amazed at how a new head has grown back everytime I've stuck my neck out :) Go on - make 2010 your year of bravery!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

we must be bonkers...

Been editing a completed first draft of a little junior/middle grade mystery thriller I finished just before christmas. I'd written most of it a few years back but I've been fixing it up and put in a slightly different engine and now its getting a new lick of paint and a polish. As its been worked on somewhat in the past, its not too raw so I have hopes of getting it ready for a first drive to the publishers in a couple of weeks - how's that for ambitious :) Still want to finish the first draft of my YA ASAP. I think I can finish it before the university year starts in March. I hope by then I've heard back from the few publishers that have some of my material right now so I can get started on the great submissions plan for 2010. Its good to get cracking on a few things while I wait out the publishing doldrums of the summer holiday season.

I've been looking back over 2009 and someone asked me the other day whether any of my eggs hatched. I think when I blogged about it I had ten sitting in the basket. Of those ten, only one hatched, with Australian Standing Orders taking a small number of my PB, The Were-Nana. As they only select a small number of titles every year I felt very pleased about that. Was a bit sad and grumpy about the other nine eggs (and there have been other eggs that also never came to life)but there have been some unforseen hatchings (wild eggs?) like having a couple of dozen copies of my novel Jack the Viking purchased by Singapore Public Libraries and The Were-Nana picked as one of their favourite children's book by the Studio 2 Crew for NZ book month. I also sold four short stories and had some very exciting public speaking and school visiting opportunities which were a wonderful experience that gave me some new skills and honed others. I got to meet and work with some lovely people like Sarah Forster from NZ Book Council, authors Lucy Davey and Kyle Mewburn, librarians and teachers from a number of great schools around Auckland, and librarians from the Public library's in Westport and Thames who were all wonderful wonderful people. I got interviewed on National Radio and The Were Nana was also read out on the radio and nicely reviewed by John McIntyre on radio too. I went to a fantastic conference in Wellington in September for people just like me and hung out with the loveliest bunch of folk, meeting a whole new crowd of writers and illustrators for children as well as catching up with some much loved writery friends. Of course there was the Children's Choice Award thing which basically gave most of the year its impetus and was the biggest thrill. So on the whole, despite the mouldy egg thing, it was a surprising and very positive year. This year, I think, cannot help but be different (although not in a bad way) and I will be working hard on keeping that egg basket as full as I can with new stories and new submissions. Good luck to all of you out there toiling away on stories for children. Sometimes it is a business with the definite whiff of spoilt eggs but that doesn't seem to dampen the creative spirit does it - we must be bonkers :)